It may come as a surprise to some people that blind people read blogs, but in the age of visual information, blogs can be a great source of information for blind people, because they don’t rely on images as much as social media sites such as Instagram and Pinterest. For example, I have software on my laptop that reads the text of the webpage aloud to me. Other people use a device that makes the words appear in a series of dots (known as Braille) on a raised display, whereas others have some vision, so they use software to enlarge the text.
In theory, the experience of reading a blog shouldn’t be any different, but there are definitely things that people do in terms of their blog design that make me click away after a few seconds. I’m pretty sure they aren’t doing it to exclude blind readers, it’s just that they don’t know what’s unhelpful.How to Make Your Blog More Accessible to Blind Readers Click To Tweet
I would like to contribute to fixing that, so here are 7 things that you can do to make reading your blog a more pleasant experience for someone who is blind and using a screen reader.
Many of these steps are standard good practice anyway, but I think that some people don’t realise how not following good practice guidelines can make it harder for some readers to enjoy the content.
How to Make Your Blog More Accessible to Blind Readers
1. Label your images
It’s good practice anyway, but it’s nice to know what images are if you can’t see them. You don’t have to go into loads of detail, but it’s nicer to know what something is than to just hear the word “image” or some obscure file name. The software that I use to read the text cannot describe your images, which is why alt tags are important.
Google also uses your image tags to determine what the image is, and it is therefore in your interest to label them well if you want to provide as much information as possible to enable your site to be found. Google provides some useful tips and examples here.
If for some reason you decide not to label your images, don’t leave random text where the alt text should go. Labelling every image as “interesting image” is not cool, neither is leaving the message “your alt text goes here” in the field where the alt text should go. I’ve read blog newsletters that say “your alt text goes here” on every image because the person who wrote it couldn’t be bothered to change it, and it gets a bit dull after a while!
2. Don’t use images to give information that is not available in the text
If I know that a post is an infographic, I’ll just skip it, because I know I won’t benefit from any of the information. My screenreader just detects an image. Some later versions of software have an Optical character recognition function, which scans the image and tries to reproduce the text, but this won’t convey any graphical elements, and it’s not available to everyone.
It’s your decision whether you want to include purely graphical content on your blog, but if you do so, it will exclude some potential readers.Don't use images that have information not available in the text as blind readers won't have access to it. Click To Tweet
What I find more annoying are posts that I have begun to read, and then I find that key messages are displays as graphics. This morning I clicked on a post about chocolate brownies, but the ingredients list was an image. I could read how to make the brownies, but I had no idea what I would need.
To give you another example, I was reading a marketing blog that was talking about mistakes to avoid. There were images of signs or marketing ads, but I couldn’t tell what they were, and the post didn’t make it clear what exactly was wrong with the adverts. I invested time in reading this post but didn’t gain anything from it because I didn’t understand the mistakes that had been made. This wasted my time and made me think twice about visiting the blog again.
3. Don’t play a sound file automatically when someone visits your page
I cannot tell you how infuriating this is! It happened to me the other day. I needed some information from a website and there was an automatic audio file that blasted out every time I clicked on the site!
I imagine that must be a pain for other people too if they are somewhere where they don’t want to hear it, like in a busy office, but as well as being annoying, it meant that I could not read anything on the page, because the audio file was louder than my screenreader software.
I got around the problem by turning off automatic playing of media content in my browser, but I shouldn’t have to do this.
For best results, give readers the choice about whether they want to play your welcome video, and don’t accept ads on your site that start playing automatically.
4. Use a question or audio alternative instead of relying on a visual CAPTCHA
The problem with CAPTCHAs is that they are a distorted image of text, and screenreaders cannot read them. There are browser extension solutions for solving CAPTCHAs, but not everyone has access to them. There have been times when I haven’t signed up to follow blogs because I could not read the text, there was no alternative audio challenge available, and nobody around that I could ask to do the tedious task for me! I lost out on the content, but the blogger also lost out on a potential subscriber. Instead, some people ask easy questions or give mathematical problems instead of using a text or audio CAPTCHA.
5. Think about your use of styles and headings
I’m writing this as someone who creates their blog posts in HTML because the visual editors are not accessible to me. If you use the visual editor, you can always view the HTML code. If whole blocks of text are styled as headings, you have a problem!
I’ve seen pages before with the entire text styled as heading 4. You may not be able to tell visually, but having heading 4 announced at the beginning of each line is not fun!
As well as helping blind people to navigate your page, (there are keyboard shortcuts that allow us to do this), getting your styles in order shows search engines that you have a well-structured page with a clear layout, so getting this right is also good for search optimisation.
6. If you have a sign-up or contact form, label your fields and buttons correctly
It’s good practice really, but screenreaders rely on forms being coded correctly so that people know what information belongs in which field.
7. Do you really want adverts scattered throughout your text?
I’ve been on sites where people do this. On one hand, I understand that they want to optimise their ad revenue, but if the reader’s experience is interrupted every couple of paragraphs by a random ad, it detracts from the usability of the site.
This is compounded when you’re using software to read the text to you, because even when you have the speed faster than most people would be able to understand, you still don’t have the ability to skim read, which means you first have to identify the text passages or ads that you don’t want to read.
I hope that you found these tips useful and I’d be happy to answer any questions in the comments.
This post was written by Kirsty Major, who works as a freelance English teacher for adults and runs the Unseen Beauty blog in her spare time.